Calls To Ditch Deadline On Scotland Bill

3 February 2016, 08:06 | Updated: 3 February 2016, 08:07

Labour is to urge the UK and Scottish governments to ditch the looming deadline for a deal on more powers for Scotland and remain at the negotiating table until an agreement can be reached.

The Scottish Government has set a February 12 deadline for an agreement on the funding that underpins the Scotland Bill, the law designed to deliver on "the vow'' of more powers in the final days of the independence referendum.

The UK Government said "there are still some difficult issues to resolve'' but it is confident of reaching an agreement.

Scotland's Deputy First Minister John Swinney said there is still a "considerable way'' to go and warned he could advise Holyrood to reject the Bill.

He said a February 12 deal is essential to give Holyrood time for scrutiny ahead of the dissolution of parliament for the Scottish Parliament elections in May.

Labour described the deadline as "arbitrary'' ahead of a debate on the negotiations in the House of Commons.

Labour's Shadow Scottish Secretary Ian Murray, who will lead the debate, said: "Neither the UK nor Scottish Government negotiators should walk away until we have the new powers secured.

"Over the past few days we have seen the negotiations descend into a blame game. People across Scotland will not understand that after the negotiation for more powers, this deal could fall apart at the last minute.

"Labour will use our debate today to get answers from the UK Government about the progress of the negotiations, the sticking points and what needs to be done to find a deal.''

In a Holyrood briefing on Tuesday, a spokesman for First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: "The First Minister and the Deputy First Minister have been absolutely clear that we are not bluffing.

"They have said they will not sign up to something which would result in a locked-in systemic disadvantage to Scotland's budget that would cost billions of pounds cumulatively over the next few years.

"Trying to take party politics out of it, and I know you can never do that, to actually be apolitical about it: no Scottish Government of any political stripe or persuasion should be prepared to sign up to a deal like that. It would be a dereliction of duty as a minister.''

A UK Government spokesman said: "Yesterday's talks, the eighth round of discussions between the UK and Scottish governments, have shown yet again our willingness to engage with and listen to the Scottish Government's concerns.

"We have agreed to speak again in the coming days and, while there are still some difficult issues to resolve, we remain confident that a deal can be reached that is fair to Scotland and fair to the rest of the UK, now and in the future.''

Labour's motion calls on Parliament to express its regret that no agreement has been reached and the "complete lack of transparency with which negotiations have been conducted''.